Thursday, August 14, 2014

Personal Reading Preferences

Okay, so it's been a great summer of reading by the pool for me. Today is actually my first day back to work! The hours I used to spend reading, I will now spend teaching. I know, it's sort of sad. Okay, supa-sad.

But I've been talking to a few of my author friends recently about books. What books we've liked, why we liked them. What books we didn't like, why we didn't like them. That discussion always delves into our own writing--focusing on why we write the types of books we do.

After thinking about these discussions, I've come to the conclusion that what I read and what I write is personal. Just like I abhor mushrooms, there are certain genres that just don't do anything for me. I have a hard time getting into them, and it's not because they're poorly written, or have uncompelling characters, or anything the author could've done better.

That particular genre is just not my thing. Fae is one. I know there are tons of books out there featuring faeries that are awesome. Some of our own Dauntless authors have written amazing fae stories! I just can't get into them.

Steampunk is another. I want to like it. Heck, I want to write it!

I tried reading it. I tried writing it. Just not for me.

I can't pinpoint what it is about these things that doesn't mesh with me, I just know they don't. Do you have specific genres you've tried reading and just can't get into? What do you like to read? 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Helping Reluctant Readers

I love books. For as long as I can remember I’ve loved reading and have had a book on my bedside table. I even have a second grade report card in which the librarian admonished my mother not to let me have more than ten books out from the library (I think she thought I didn’t read them all or something.) But luckily, my mother encouraged my reading.

Later in life, English was, of course, my favorite subject in school because it came easily to me. I loved being introduced to the classics and had a teacher that made it all seem like an incredible adventure when we were learning about Shakespeare, Dickens, Austen and others. So when I went to college, I earned my degree in Secondary Education, English teaching, so I could hopefully inspire others as my own teachers had done.

When I became a mother, I tried to instill the love of reading in my children, although part of me couldn’t imagine them doing anything but loving to read. After all, they were my children! It was a proud day when they turned five because they all knew they could get their own library card then. We had so many great moments at the library---during storytime, free time, and family book club time. I loved it.

But then my children got older and began to choose their own activities, and one son’s choices didn’t include reading. I was shocked at first. I mean, how could he not love reading? How could a child of mine not love books? He said it just wasn’t his thing and he would rather be out playing basketball. Of course all the statistics about what reading does for scholastic achievement and even just plain life skills with literacy ran through my mind. I wanted him to be able to be the very best he could be, and I knew that meant I had to encourage his reading habit in a way that wouldn't make him feel forced or backed into a corner.

Here are some of the things that we did that could maybe help you with your reluctant reader:

1. I showed him magazine articles on his favorite basketball players that he might like to read. 

2. I introduced him to the biography section of the library which has many books on sports people that he admires and tells how they achieved "greatness" in their chosen profession.

3. We have a family book club and each time someone in the family finishes a book I take them out for ice cream and we discuss what they did and didn’t like about the book. This little incentive has actually motivated several of my children to stretch and read a few more books than they might have otherwise, including my reluctant reader.

4. My husband reads bedtime stories in the hall so everyone can hear. I know that having their dad read to them has made a difference in how they feel about reading. It’s also helpful that my husband is an avid reader himself and my children have all seen him with a book in his hand since they were small.

5. We have a regular time set aside for reading. It’s sort of fun to all be together with our different books. Of course a poetry book or magazine still counts and sometimes, for my reluctant reader, just having small columns in a magazine to read instead of chapters in a book makes it seem easier to him and not so overwhelming. 

6. Books on CD are available for him to listen to at night right before he goes to sleep. I was actually surprised at how much he liked this one, but thrilled, of course, that he did.

There isn’t one magical thing that will work for every child because each child is different. But there is no doubt in my mind that being a good reader directly relates to success in life. If you don’t think so, perhaps consider these statistics:

70 percent of prisoners in state and federal systems can be classified as illiterate

85 percent of all juvenile offenders rate as functionally or marginally illiterate.

43 percent of those whose literacy skills are lowest live in poverty

Source: National Institute for Literacy 

"Whether children can read well by the end of third grade is a strong predictor of how they are likely to do in the future—in school, at work, and as parents and citizens. The facts are sobering. Children who do not learn to read proficiently by the end of third grade are unlikely ever to read at grade level. These youngsters are at high risk for later school failure and behavioral problems, for dropping out of high school, and for a host of negative life outcomes once they reach adulthood."

Source: American Prospect

Reading is important for every child and a successful life can be built on reading skills. That's a fact. But reading is so many things--pleasure, learning, and inspiration--that I want my children to experience all of that. And hopefully they will catch the vision themselves, and pass it on to their children.

How do you encourage your children to read?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Going Outside

Writers spend a lot of time in front of their computers. They have to, to be able to complete their stories. It used to be that the only way to get that done was to stay at home, like a reclusive hermit with more imaginary friends than real. But now, thanks to laptops and tablets, writers can get out and explore the world while still writing. For me, getting out and doing things, even while writing on a deadline, helps my mind relax and recharge. And being outside gives my expressiveness a boost when I smell the earth right after a rainstorm or see the bright colors of a newly opening flower. Sometimes just being around other people brings new ideas, like the overheard snippets of conversations while I’m in a long line at an amusement park. One time I got a plot idea from a freeway billboard. Inspiration can come from the most mundane things. So while writing is a profession where you need plenty of time alone, being out in the world can help expand and deepen our characters and stories as well. What experiences have you had away from your computer that let you come back to it anxious to add to your characters and world?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Five ways to use food as a tool in fiction

I recently had a reader who told me she felt the need to recreate one of the recipes I described in my book. She said it deepened her experience as she read. The funny thing is, the reader wasn't talking about one of my cookbooks--she was referring to a tool that I love to use when writing fiction. Food in fiction can be used to draw your reader into the story.

Little Women
Here are five ways to use food as a tool in fiction:

1. Use food to create a sense of place or invoke a certain response from your reader.

Let's say that you are writing a scene showing a family at Christmastime, sitting around the fire, and sharing time together. To help your reader really feel that they are there, describe the yeasty smell of cinnamon rolls as they come from the oven, or the taste of wassail as it slips down your character's throat. Your reader will insert their own positive experiences with cinnamon rolls and sweet drinks by the fire, and be drawn into the scene.

2. A taste or smell can help connect a later scene to an earlier one.

If you want readers to recall parts of an earlier scene that is critical to bringing later loose ends together, use a food or a smell to connect the two. For instance, in Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, the peculiar smells of lavender and lemons are mentioned in a garden early in the book, and then, when the character has a vision of an earlier time, the smell of lavender and lemons is mentioned again, pulling the two scenes together in the reader's remembrance and helping them make connections that the authors did not have to spell out. 

3. Mealtimes are a great way to create a crucible that brings conflict to the fore.

Chocolate Frogs from Harry Potter
We all know that conflict drives the story forward. What better way to introduce conflicts than to sit all of your characters down at a meal and watch them duke it out? Think of Downton Abbey. You know as soon as you see them sit down for their fancy meal that the crap is going to hit the fan! And we are rubbing our hands in anticipation. Bring your characters together over dinner to form a crucible--a way to push characters into the same space and make them bring up the conflicts that are bugging them. 

4. Food can spark the reader's imagination.

We all love to eat, and food can bring wonder to the world your characters live in. Think of Willy Wonka with his color-changing gum, and Harry Potter with chocolate frogs and puking pastilles. One of my favorite foods in fiction are the Lumba Berry Pies in In A World Without Heroes (Beyonder #1), by Jason Mull. The character encounters lumba berry pie--a delicacy that is so addicting that the diner will never want to eat anything again. The only problem is, lumba berries have no nutritional value and causes the addicted eater to starve to death.
Lumba Berry Pies from A World Without Heroes

5. Foods and their preparation can be used as a metaphor for what the character is going through emotionally.

Having your character eat an ice cream or bake something from scratch can mirror what is going on emotionally in the character's life. In one of my books, a character burns the batch of cookies that she makes after having a disastrous date. The ruined cookies reflect the emotional state of the character and it pushes her over the edge (as an added tool, I used the burned cookies to foreshadow a later event involving a burning building).

The next time you want to introduce a setting, fuel the reader's imagination, or bring characters together to create a conflict, search your recipe box--you may find the answer to your plot holes in your next meal.


Authors-have you ever used food as a device in your writing?

Readers-What's the most memorable dinner scene or food you've ever read about?

Monday, June 16, 2014

GIRLS ON FIRE boxed set is now available!

Okay, so 10 Dauntless authors have put their books together into one amazing boxed set: GIRLS ON FIRE.

Here's what the boxed set is about: Ten powerful YA heroines kicking butt and fighting for love.

10 novels. 1 buck.

Get your copy today!

Click on each author's name to learn more about them and their individual books.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Do your characters arc?

Character arcs, a character's journey of internal change and growth, are an important part of making any story satisfying. It helps readers to relate to your story and root for your character. The external plot, the action and events of the story, affects every character, but do your characters grow and change on an emotional level?

Every character, and every character, has to start somewhere. We know that in the "ordinary world," at the beginning of the story, something is amiss—something is missing from the protagonist's life. That doesn't just mean a love interest or a murderer that needs to be brought to justice—there's something deeper, on an emotional level, that the character needs.

That could be love or justice—or it could be forgiveness, healing, resolve, courage, wisdom, etc. (Editor/author Alicia Rasley has a great list in her article "The Internal Journey.") This is what they gain in the end— what the story events mean to the character.

This is another instance where knowing the end from the beginning really pays off—if you know what the character will end up with, you know set them up in the opposite place: if they need love, they start off lonely. If they need healing, they start off damaged; resolve, dissolute; courage, afraid; wisdom, naive.

This also works the other way around—if you have the flaw at the beginning, you can look for ways to "fix" it throughout the story events.

You can also find your character's arc by by focusing on your character's strengths to find their weaknesses. This principle creates well-rounded, realistic characters without throwing in disparate and extraneous characteristics or fake weaknesses.

Sounds contradictory, doesn't it? The concept is actually centuries old, as Alicia Rasley explains in a blog post:
The heroic flaw is what opens the protagonist up to real trouble-- what causes him (and it generally WAS a him in the past :) to seek out trouble or fail to resolve it expeditiously. But here's the clever part-- the heroic flaw was often the other side of the heroic strength: "That which makes him great brings him down." (I'm paraphrasing, maybe bowdlerizing, Aristotle here!) This is so elegant, so classy, so inspiring, that even today novels can be transformed by that equation.
To do this, we take the character's strength to a logical extreme. So if her strength is that she's a self-starter, maybe her weakness is a logical extension of that: she can't ask anyone for help. If his strength is that he's naturally a very generous and loving person—but his weakness is that he tries to hard to please others and becomes a doormat.

Finding this flaw sets up the character's emotional journey. Their growth throughout the story is prompted by the external events of the plot. The external events may be what keep the reader turning the pages, but this internal journey is what makes the book have real resonance with the reader. Seeing people grow and change is a major appeal of fiction, and gives us the hope that we can all become better people. This internal journey is what makes a book truly compelling, and something that we continue to contemplate beyond the basic events of the plot.

There's a lot more to be said about character arcs—enough to fill a book, actually! So I did: Character Arcs: founding, forming and finishing your character's journey helps you to find the perfect arc for your character, make sure their change is prompted by external events and revise your character arcs for maximum impact.

What do you think? How have you crafted your characters' arcs? What are your favorite character arcs to read?

Monday, June 9, 2014

Cover Reveal for the First Dauntless Collection: GIRLS ON FIRE

What happens when you bring together 10 award-winning, critically acclaimed authors? 

The GIRLS ON FIRE boxed set, coming June 16th!

And now we'd like to present you with the cover,
designed by Morgan Media!

For some reason, blogs all over the internet--including this one--are converting the blue in this cover to a washed out-grey. If you'd like to see it in all its original blue glory, 
click here to see in on Facebook!

Here's what you'll find inside this collection...

WITCH FALL – Amber Argyle
High Fantasy
Supreme in their dominion over seasons, storms, and sea, the witches have forgotten the unmatched destructiveness of mankind. And among the weapons men seek are the magical songs of the witches. Born of witches but raised among their enemies, Lilette searches for a way to heal the rift between mankind and the witches. But it may be too late to save either. For if there is one thing Lilette has come to know for certain, it’s that all things fall.

Paranormal Romance
For centuries, Alex Night and Emil Stone have yearned for Evie Starling. When both men claim to be her soul mate and tell her about an unbelievable past, Evie learns that she’s not the person she thought she was, and her soul is about to become the rope in an eternal tug-of-war.

AWAKENING – Christy Dorrity
When an ancient curse threatens McKayla McCleery's family, she must decide what in her life is real and what is fantasy. Based in Celtic mythology, Awakening is a gripping young adult fantasy that is rife with magic, romance, and mystery.

INEVITABLE – Tamara Hart Heiner
Visions of death plague Jayne, who thinks watching her sister die is the worst that could happen to her. But when she witnesses a murder, Jayne realizes that the next death she sees might be her own.

WATCHED – Cindy M. Hogan
Romantic Suspense
Change. She longed for it.
A murder. She will never be the same.

Allison O'Malley's long-lost father shows up and tells her about a long forgotten Irish people, the Tuatha de Danaan.

Futuristic Fantasy
Sixteen-year-old Gabriella Kilpatrick can shoot fire from her hands, which would be great if she didn’t get blamed for a blazing inferno that kills 17 schoolmates. Gabby will have to learn who she can trust, how to control her own power, and most of all, how to lead a Council of Elementals, most of whom have more control over their power than she does. If she can’t, she’ll find herself just like those 17 schoolmates: burned and six feet under.

Kickbutt faerie Violet is about to graduate as the top guardian trainee of her class, but when an assignment goes wrong and the human boy she’s meant to be protecting follows her back into the fae realm, a dangerous plot is set in motion.

PERCEPTION – Lee Strauss
Eternal Life is to Die For.
A spoiled genetically altered girl needs the help of a jaded “natural” boy to find her missing brother.

INTRINSICAL – Lani Woodland
The gene that allows the women in Yara’s family to see and communicate with spirits seems to have passed her over. Until the night she rescues a local hottie from an attacking ghost. Her act of heroism attracts the attention of the evil spirit, and she finds herself entrenched in the middle of a sixty-year-old curse that haunts the school, threatening her own life as well as that of her friends.

~ ~ ~
Publication date: June 16, 2014
Price: 99 cents for 10 amazing YA novels!
~ ~ ~


About the Authors:
Follow each author’s link to learn more about them and their books.

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